Pretty typical picture isn’t it? Not just for teen boys, but for everyone. Seems like all of us are spending major amounts of time staring at electronics of all types these days – not just phones, but iPads, computers, video games, and TV’s. It’s to the point where it is getting a little scary. I never drive to work without seeing people messing with their phones on the FREEWAY! That is terrifying and I think it makes a good case for the addictiveness of these little doohickies.
If you took a typical family and measured their total screen time for a week. I don’t think there would be much doubt as to who would be the hands-down winner for screen time – the teenaged boy. Especially for video games, but phones and computers are also a problem.
Teen boys seem to have an unusual affinity for video games, particularly violent, action-packed ones. As the parent of three boys of greatly varying ages, I’m a pretty good test case for this phenomenon.
My stepson (my bonus son) is 33, so he can remember a time before cell phones and personal computers. But he’s also my biggest gamer. He spent a lot of time with his grandparents. Unfortunately, they indulged him in a lot of gaming options and abundant free time to use them. My two grandsons (14 and 12) are equally addicted. It makes me sad because they are usually playing games on the computer within seconds of rolling out of bed.
My middle son is 26, so he grew up in the heart of the PC and cell phone era. So he’s pretty techy, but not overly so. We had moved away from the grandparents by the time he was old enough for games, so we were a lot more controlled about gaming time while growing up. But once he moved into his own apartment and later got married. The limits were gone so his game time increased exponentially.
My youngest is 17. He can’t ever remember a time when electronics were not a staple in daily life. We have been the strictest of all with his game time. There have been several times when he has been without a gaming system at all (the horror!). It would break so we just wouldn’t replace it until he earned the money for a few one. I’m delighted that of the three, he is the least inclined to play games.
Here is my opinion on electronics in general and video games in particular. I dislike video games intensely. They are undoubtedly addictive, and I think we should minimize the time our kids spend playing with them.
I also think other types of electronics are addictive – hence the cell phone on the freeway phenomenon. But on the other hand, I can’t rule out the possibility that I’m just as addicted to them as anyone else. When you are running a social media empire (ha!) like I am. You do end up spending a massive amount of time on your computer and your phone – it’s just the nature of the beast.
But we are talking about teen boys here and I promised you some strategies to help you get your son’s screen time under control. Whether you hate gaming, or see some value in it, I think we can all agree that these boys are spending far too much time on it, to the exclusion of other pursuits.
And you have to look at the long-term situation. My two older boys are obviously adults and both are married. I’m not going to spill any dirty laundry here. But I will share with you that having a husband who has his face in a game all_the_time is a pretty lonely way to run a marriage. How are you preparing your teen boys for their adult lives?
Just think about how your son is going to be a decade from now. When he has a family and a lawn to mow, and things to fix around the house. Will he still be spending umpty-seven hours a week with his computer games? Probably. And by then we may have even more addictive electronics. And if your grown son is still hooked on video games, how likely is it that YOUR grandchildren might end up like mine? This is an issue that can have a considerable long-term impact.
I also have some first-hand experience with that. Fortunately, my husband has little to no interest in games, but when I was in my 20’s I had a boyfriend who was massively addicted. It was one of several reasons why I broke up with him. It is hard to have a relationship with a person who is having a relationship with a game.
So, here are a few tips for getting your son’s screen usage under control.My best tip - Keep the video games and computers in a PUBLIC area. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.
- Set a policy on what they CAN have. As the parent, you are the ultimate authority on what comes into your home. Period. There is no rule to say that you have to provide the latest and greatest devices for Christmas or birthdays. Yes they WILL beg and plead for them, and yes it is fun to see their eyes light up. But you have to think long-term strategy here. If they wanted a stash of pot or a keg of beer, you wouldn’t allow that, so why allow the gaming systems? Addiction is addiction.They may need a computer for school and pretty much every kid has a cell phone these days. But it doesn’t need to be the latest gizmo that is capable of running every game possible or the latest and greatest of every single game – make ’em work and save for it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s your money paying for it, or theirs – that’s the beauty of a policy. They will NOT like it, but they didn’t much like potty training either, and look how well that worked out!
- Set limits and enforce them stringently. You would probably allow your son to have a candy bar or two. But you wouldn’t allow him to have a sugar IV drip going directly into their arm, would you? Because that would be bad for them…. Look at electronics the same way. A little bit now and then for a treat is fine, or even a nightly dessert, but they can’t have it for three meals a day.Sit down with your husband and make a plan for what YOU feel is reasonable for your son. Maybe that’s an hour a day if all homework or chores are done, with a bit more on weekends. The important thing is to set limits, write them down, and then ENFORCE them.And yes, I get that enforcement is the toughest part. These kids are just as addicted to these things as any meth addict. They WILL try to get the maximum time on them whenever possible. However, there is a strategy for that too. This leads me to item #3.
- Location, location, location. I think this is the best rule and I am very proud to say that I have kept this one 100%. I do NOT allow screens in the bedrooms – ever. Not even ours and even my video addicted sons voluntarily follow this. My laptop or TV has never seen the inside of our bedroom and I don’t intend to start now. And not one of my children has ever had a computer, TV, or video game system in his room. It’s a bad idea.They say sunshine is the best disinfectant and I agree. I do let them keep their electronics in the basement playroom just because there isn’t really a good space for it upstairs. But when I start to see it as becoming a problem, it comes upstairs. If your son is having difficulty in following your electronics rules, then you could just move the problem device so you can monitor his usage more easily. Same thing for cell phones – lock ’em up at bedtime if you need to. Stick to your guns – it’s important.
- Don’t be afraid to say NO. Just as I think it’s OK to set limits, I think it’s OK to say no. I’m always surprised that a lot of parents have a problem with this. I never really did. My kids heard no a lot. And they lived to tell the tale. They may stomp around and pitch a hissy fit for a while. But hey, it’s MY house and I am the parent, so I set the rules – period.In fact, I can guarantee that they will pitch every fit in the book – they are addicted to these things and any addict will fight for what they crave, but it’s usually not a genuine anger. That’s how you can tell – if it’s a genuine anger, they would still be mad at you after they give them back. If it’s a manipulation technique, they will shut up the minute you give them back their toys (sounds like the terrible two’s all over again, doesn’t it?)I will almost always take away electronics for poor behavior, or falling grades, but sometimes I will take them away just because they are being overused or abused. The first week of school, I found out my son and his girlfriend were carrying on a text marathons DURING school hours, despite the fact that I had stringently warned him not to do that. So, away went the phone for several days, and we worked together to set (and enforce) some reasonable limits. Which brings me to item #5.
- Trust but verify. If you feel strongly that your son is having problems of an electronic nature, you have every right to verify. I’m perfectly fine with checking my son’s phone records to see his patterns of activity. I’ve never felt the need for a Net Nanny-type program, but I’ve thought about it and I would install it if I felt he was looking at porn or something. I do have his Facebook password, but he has so many brothers, Scout leaders, and preachers on his Facebook account, he can’t get away with posting much of anything on there without someone busting him for it. I do review his phone use every month and spot check his texting timestamps.
So, those are my strategies and what has or hasn’t worked for me, in my 30 years of managing my boys and their electronics. What are some of your tips?
Here are some resources that could help – note that I am an Amazon Associate and I earn from qualifying purchases:
Get Your Teen Off Their Cell Phone – Cell Phone Addiction
Do You Think Your Teen is Awesome? You Should!
The ONE Thing You Need to Know About Teens